It was a very productive week in Haiti with meetings on January 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25 2019. I’m so grateful we have been warmly welcomed once again by our US Embassy and IBESR. We work in many countries and I can tell you the time and welcome we receive here from these teams is rare. As you know, a small group of US agencies came together to “thrive together instead of survive alone.” We all have common goals of doing what is best for Haitian children – all children. We spent time listening to many Creche directors, agency representatives, our Embassy adoption team and nine IBESR staff members, which included the key players/directors at IBESR.
Our first meeting was an informal gathering for us to hear from crèche directors and others involved in caring for children in Haiti. There were many concerns raised. Overall, we left this gathering with the conclusion that communication and rumors remain problematic for everyone. We continue to encourage all stakeholders in Haiti who care for the best interests of children to schedule regular meetings and to share information so that rumors can be dealt with quickly. Everyone we met with during the week wants to do what is best for Haitian children. Although, there are differences in perspective on what is best, there are many more areas of agreement.
Our next meeting was with our US Embassy. Michelle Milardo, Chief of the Adoption Unit, is on a medical leave of absence. During her absence, Megan Kenny, is acting Chief. Megan is just as passionate and responsive as Michelle and Keith and attended our later meetings with us. Megan brought a few concerns to our group that we feel important to share with you.
- Clarification on the Visa medical appointment and vaccine requirements. The embassy follows the CDC guidelines for vaccines. However, parents can choose to waive vaccines for children under 10. Children over 10 must have vaccines. The medical appointment for children over 10 is $450. The medical appointment for children under 10 whose vaccines are waived is now $200.
- We discussed the inconsistent timeline with dossiers processed in MOI and subsequent passport processing. This has been a challenge for us because the passport department tells the embassy passports take one week. We know they have taken 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, etc. We know that families are “at the end of their rope” by this point in the process and want to make sure this step becomes more predictable in terms of timing. We brainstormed different solutions and the embassy took note to present to the administrators at MOI who have, in the past, been very receptive to putting their input into practice.
- The Embassy discussed the challenges of social media and the Facebook pages’ influence over parents. She said she knows when a rumor is posted because she receives communication at once from several families who are concerned. This has always been a concern and something we constantly have to manage and do damage control. Facebook is a blessing and a curse – bring any and all rumors/concerns to your ASP. Transparency on all sides is crucial in this hard and long journey to bring your child(ren) home. The embassy pointed out that they too have a Facebook page and American Citizen Services has a Facebook page. The embassy team is happy to dispel rumors, but they ask that families come to their ASP first with these concerns and we will work with the embassy to solve any problem they might not be aware of.
On January 23, 2019, our three+ hour meeting at IBESR (with the embassy team) was filled with new information. As an agency representative who has been working in Haiti 15+ years I can honestly state I have never seen IBESR create the amount of change they have in the past year. Local and international organizations have partnered with IBESR to administer regulatory supervision over 569 orphanages. Using electronic surveys, the orphanages (and creches) were inspected by committees and rated based on administrative caregiver rankings. You have probably heard of the color system that creches are now under (green, yellow and red). IBESR explained the goal of the creche rating system, how creches are color coded and the steps and timeline in which creche are being asked to improve their facility to make it “green”. It became apparent quickly that outside resources have come in to support IBESR in this huge undertaking. IBESR is prioritizing the safety of children and seeking that all creches have appropriate discipline plans for the children in their care. There is a movement to de-institutionalize Haiti and move children back into their original families or into foster care. They are calling it the “DI Process” (Deinstitutionalization of children). There is also another subgroup of creches considered “red plus.” These creches will be shut down due to abuse concerns.
We (the agencies) expressed our concerns to every group that this must be done with extreme caution, slowly and with an abundance of education and transparent communication. It is clear that international adoption will remain as a solution for permanency for Haitian children – ideally as a last resort. How does this affect your adoption? Only green creches can submit new child dossiers until creches are re-evaluated between now and July. If yellow or red creches have child dossiers already in IBESR, those can be matched/processed still. Agencies are still receiving referrals and IBESR states that they have matches prepared for many of the families who have been waiting the longest.
We also discussed recent changes to the quota. After our discussion it was determined by IBESR that agencies can continue to submit 12 parent dossiers per year that are non-special needs. In addition, ASPs can submit 10 parent dossiers that are special cases including kinship, children over age 6, sibling sets of 3+ and medical special needs. This quota, which we support, is to prevent a backlog of requests for “healthy babies.” Moving forward, we recommend that agencies greatly limit the numbers of healthy, young children dossier requests that are submitted, as these are not the primary profiles of children in need in Haiti.
This brings me to our next item of discussion: advocating for special needs/older children. IBESR is researching a few database programs that will help them manage, regulate and track children in their care. With this, ASPs hope to receive more information on these cases so that we can advocate for children who are more difficult to place.
Finally, we met with Lumos. The Lumos report released in 2017 about Haiti is comprehensive and sheds a light on very dark issues: restaveks, trafficking, institutionalization and voluntourism. I encourage you to all read their report. We share their vision to eradicate child slavery and trafficking. Institutionalization of children is a travesty and we believe every child deserves a family. And the voluntourism movement in Hait, although well-intended, fuels the other three issues. We emphasized that communication and PR on their efforts be transparent to all constituents. It is not Lumos goal to close good Creche and leave the directors and staff with nothing. These institutions can continue to play a role in caring for the children in Haiti in various ways. They are encouraged to develop alternate programs and all receiving education and support on how to do this.
In between all the above meetings I was able to visit many orphanages and some of your children in those orphanages, if you got a picture from me than I was able to meet your children. I was able to meet with a few clients who happen to be in Haiti at the same time, which was awesome. A highlight was getting a match for a family and being able to go meet the child, tour the orphanage and meet the creche director, it was fun to be able to send additional photos of the child to this family.
All in all, I can confidently report that intercountry adoption from Haiti will remain a permanency option for Haitian children.
WIAA is committed to helping all impoverished children. As part of licensing in Haiti, humanitarian aid support must be shown towards the country. WIAA works closely with an organization called Haitian Roots. Haitian Roots is a 501(c)3 charity the provides schooling opportunities to Haitian children. It was started by former and current WIA employees. If you’re interested in sponsoring a child, check out their website here. Donations can be made directly to Haitian Roots, just tell them WIAA sent you.